There are big apartments, there are huge apartments, and then there are the penthouses at Nassim Mansions. Verne Maree sees how many synonyms she can find for “extremely enormous”.
Unless you’ve ever turned up Taman Serasi, across the road from the Cluny Road entrance to Botanic Gardens, you’d never guess there was such a lovely residential area at the top of the rise. On one of those sunny, breezy, blue-sky days we were treated to in January, I visited Maria Artaza-Lyons at her 1980s-built penthouse apartment.
Maria is only the second Peruvian I have ever met, the other being Rosio Flynn, whose house is featured on page 184. And by sheer coincidence, I interviewed them both on the same day. What are the odds of that? Especially as Maria says she has never met another Peruvian during her two years in Singapore.
Some Like It Hot
Maria’s unusual accent, a blend of Latina lilt and plummy English, is explained by the fact that she and her family emigrated from Piura to London when she was 16. Husband Mark Lyons’ job brought the family to Singapore at the end of 2006. They loved it here so much that he changed his career from shipping and oil to iron and steel trading to make their position here more stable, and they became permanent residents just over a year ago.
Having arrived at the top of the property boom, and settled in temporarily at Treetops Serviced Apartments, Maria counts herself lucky to have been introduced by her husband to relocation agent Nancy Griffiths one day at the British Club, where the family had become members. “Nancy helped me find this place. She was fantastic, and we have since become good friends.
“We brought only our clothing with us, and not much of that, either,” Maria remembers. “Talk about a change of temperature! It snowed the day we left. We were so happy to leave all that behind; we love the heat.”
Space to Fill
With two showroom-size floors in a total area of 7,060 square metres to furnish from scratch, it was time to go shopping.
Tomlinson’s Antiques was the source of the Chinese dining table and chairs, the drinks cabinet and the two big, square armchairs that flank it, as well as the Chinese double desk in one corner.
A striking example of South Indian artist P. Gnana’s highly recognisable “Eternal Companions” series hangs behind the desk. Maria tells me it was a birthday present from her husband. “It appealed to me at once – it’s very soothing,” she says, adding that she also felt an “instant connection” with the artist and his wife Vidhya, when she met them at their gallery, Gnani Arts. “Such a lovely energy comes from them.”
And on the little patios where we sit and chat – one of several such spaces, but this is Maria’s favourite – is a solid sculpture of an organically rounded and seamlessly fused family group, by one of the dozen or so South Indian artists represented in Singapore by Gnani Arts. “This is the one, single piece that Mark chose and brought into the house,” explains his wife. “He saw it, immediately loved it and had to have it. But it’s solid granite and weighs 500 kilograms. I’ve told him that when we move, he’s going to have to work out the logistics of shifting it!”
The rattan furniture out here, in the dining room and under the spiral staircase, is from Pasadena in Dempsey. All the plants were delivered by Far East Flora and are doing well: “We go away for long periods of time, and they’re still alive!”
A huge, ornately framed mirror is from Red House in Dempsey Hill, who also made the low cabinets that support the mirror. They made the beds, too; “Winnie understood my needs,” says Maria.
Most of the carpets are from Eastern Carpets, whom Maria describes as “incredibly helpful”. “You can’t see the rugs properly when they’re all piled up, but the owner brought about twelve that I had pre-selected for me to try them out on the floors.”
A big, square, central divan dominates the massive living room. It was brought in from Phuket, where Maria and Mark have a holiday house at the Coconut Island complex. “Having both grown up on the beach – Mark in Spain, and me in Lima – we love it,” says Maria. Photographs through their home attest to this, most notably a huge, block-mounted portrait of the family relaxing in a hammock at their holiday home on the Spanish Costa Blanca, which has been in Mark’s family for three generations.
Up the Wooden Hill
At the top of the stairs is a gigantic play area, featuring the biggest playpen I’ve ever seen – but I admit to having led a sheltered life. It’s the sometime domain of nine-month-old Elizabeth, who has spotted Mum from her carer’s arms and calls for a cuddle.
She was born at Mount Elizabeth, but she’s actually named after her maternal grandmother and great grandmother, I’m told. Maria is full of praise for the hospital, describing the experience of giving birth here, as “an absolute dream. They made the experience just what it should be. The support and service I received during both the run-up and labour was amazing. Add to that the ready availability of warm, friendly childcare, and I’m not surprised expats here have so many kids!”
Four-year-old Jake is having a story read to him by his other granny, Maria’s mother Elisa, who lives in England and is visiting for a few weeks. He shows me his bedroom, the size of the average London flat and colourfully decorated with removable stickers. If he tires of the big daybed, there’s a nifty pup-tent for high-adventure play.
The bed in the master bedroom is surrounded by black fringing that breaks up the vast space, which is further softened by a chandelier that is unmistakably one of Design Intervention’s. Both the bed and its side-tables were custom-made for the couple by Red House, and all the linen, mattresses and such are from Friven & Co. “Their service was outstanding,” says Maria.
A separate entrance door gives the two guest bedrooms the feeling of a guest suite, being well apart from the family bedrooms. One of them has a feature wall papered in a beautiful black-and-white Laura Ashley design, which cleverly draws the eye away from the slightly awkward lines of the opposite wall.
In the other guestroom, each of the single beds has been given a headboard that is two of the panels of an originally four-panelled antique Chinese screen. The painted Chinese chests at the bottom of each bed are from Lim’s, as are the desk and the little stool, as well as many of the knick-knacks throughout the apartment.
“As much as we both love London,” Maria confesses, “living here is so much better for us as a family. We can pop over to the club for a swim, or just downstairs to the pool. And despite the long hours he works, Mark still has time to train for his triathlons.”
Mark, a fairly serious athlete, trains with Tribob. Maria keeps fit by going out for a run whenever she finds time.
“We’re both very close to our families, and of course we miss them. But they loving coming over here to see us,” she says. “I feel I have come full circle. We grew up with domestic help in the home, and I remember my mother being able to spend quality time with us. It’s wonderful to have the same privilege.”
The family is about to relocate, but not too far. Their lease having come to an end, they have managed to find an equally massive penthouse in a neighbouring block. Good luck to Mark with moving that half-ton of sculpture!
|• The British Club|
73 Bukit Tinggi Road
+65 6467 4311
• Design Intervention
• Eastern Carpets
• Red House Carved Furniture
• Tribob, triathlon training
|• Far East Flora|
Located within Goodwood Florist
565 Thompson Road
+65 6251 2323
• Friven & Co
Flagship store at 56 Tanglin Road
+65 6235 5166
• The Gallery of Gnani Arts
Fortune Centre and The Regent
+65 6725 3112
• Lim’s Arts & Living
#02-01 Holland Road Shopping Centre
+65 6467 1300
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